The student farmers at Maggie’s Farm have started their series of garden and field crop planning this week, starting with the basic principles of laying out the schedule and sequence of the growing season, then digging deeper into the details of how we ensure successful production to meet demand for all of our customers through the spring, summer and fall. This series of classes will give the students a chance to contribute to the crop plan for The Farm School’s cultivated acreage, as well as some time to imagine how they would map out their own potential vegetable production. In January, veggie growers all over New England are reading seed catalogues and dreaming big.
We have been working over the past few months to bring our sheep and layer operations into compliance with the specifications of the AWA, and we took another step forward this week with the completion of another larger chicken door on the winter coop at Sentinel Elm Farm. The AWA mandates that the chicken doors be large enough that no hen feels trapped inside, so we have been expanding the doors on both winter coops to accommodate a more free flow of hens in and out. I mentioned the start of this project last week, and I can report that we have finished both coops by now.
The next step will be do similar work on the summer ‘egg-mobiles’ used at both farms, but in that case we will be adding a second door, rather than one large door. We’ve ordered a second automatic door for the Maggie’s egg-mobile, so that both doors will have light sensitive controls opening and closing them at dawn and dusk. We also added a feed house out in the yard at the Maggie’s winter coop, hoping to encourage the hens to come outside more, and to give them some shelter out there.
We’ve gotten every student farmer through the firewood yard this week, re-introducing everyone to the hydraulic splitter, the chainsaws, the team of horses, and the mauls. Once everyone is comfortable using the requisite tools, and knows the workings of the yard pretty well, we can push production up to top speed, and try to get through this year’s quota as quickly as we possible.
Every tool we use for making firewood is dangerous, and every step is physically demanding, so no matter how quickly we’d like to get the firewood split and stacked, the work demands care and attention.
Our chick brooder at Maggie’s has been a small outbuilding in the yard, originally built as a chicken coop. It is too small to accommodate the groups of chicks we work with for more than a couple of weeks, and we have been considering an upgrade for quite a while. We salvaged a small timber-frame structure from the sheep yard when we upgraded their situation this fall, and we’ve pulled it up near the barn to use as our new brooder house. This frame was the first built by Maggie’s student farmers way back at the start of the program, and we are currently trying to adapt it for its new purpose.
Time and use have twisted it a bit out of square, and the trip from the sheep yard didn’t do much to make it any straighter, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time this week trying to establish a level foundation, and a vision for how the whole thing will work best. We need to have a suitable brooder house ready for broiler chicks coming in the mail May 1st, and while that seems to be quite a way off, the spring is notorious for getting incomprehensibly busy all of a sudden in April, and we’re trying to get this thing finished before the crush of warmer weather. We’ll keep working on the project, and I will report back with progress.